[This concludes the two-part series started in yesterday’s blog.]
A story on the U.S. Open Quarterfinal between Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati, a former child star who self destructed on the way to greatness commanded this startling title back in 2004: “Umpire’s Unforced Errors Lift Capriati”. Another U.S. Open incident when the only thing faulty about Serena’s serve to Kim Clister when the umpire called a foot fault during the ’09 semis was probably the umpire’s mind’s perception of a simple tennis rule – is too recent to recall here. Suffice to mention that the umpire’s faulty call not only led to Serena’s wildest flair up that I have ever watched on tv but it cost her not only the loss of the match but a huge fine in addition to other penalties.
Here are excerpts from my essay, “Travesty as ‘umpire’s Unforced Errors Lift Capriati’ past African-American, Serena, at U.S. Open”:
“… I have never played a game of tennis in my life. My interest in the game started at Ife over three decades ago and became greatly developed in the United States in the early 70’s … Many of the game’s legendary stars of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s: Billie Jean King, Eva Goolagong, Margaret Court, Rod Laver McEnroe, Graf, Seles, Navratilova, all commanded center stage on television before my eyes. The interest has never ebbed since.
“I could not stay up to watch what I knew should be a memorable match between two ladies that I like, though unequally, because a men’s singles was still on past ten and looked set for another hour plus. Serena and Jennifer’s game looked set for past midnight and I decided to forego the live telecast, promising myself to catch it on a replay the next day. The result shocked me but it was from the web that I got a measure of satisfaction, if one could what had happened at the Ladies Quarterfinal QF), a level playing field.
“The ‘outcome’ of the travesty at the QF is from the headline of the New York Times of September 8 but Richard Williams, his two tennis star girls and the rest of the family should have seen it coming a long time ago, though. The family, especially the two girls had never pointed at racism being their foe in their rise to stardom even though white critics abound about Richard’s every decision and move as concern his prodigious daughters. … Richard reportedly told his former wife, Oracene audaciously, ‘let’s have kids and make them tennis players’! The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
“While the ever-confident and gracious twenty-three Serena did not ascribe her ‘defeat’ to the ‘R’ word, she referred at the post-match press conference to a similar ‘mistake’ against her sister in England this past June: ‘It kind of reminded me of the Wimbledon conspiracy with Venus.’ This was when Venus’ opponent was ‘mistakenly’ awarded a point that was not played, won or lost by Venus or Karolina Sprem. A point was just added to Sprem’s score! Here’s what happened at Flushing Meadows, a throw-back to America of pre-Civil Rights era.
“The same plays that people in the audience saw in New York was the same that fans around the world saw and the same one that racist proxy, Marina Aves of Portugal had better than good looks at in her very high umpire chair: three calls in the crucial final set that swayed the outcome … Live commentators’ remarks showed they did not agree with the chair umpire’s decision. Here’s what the NYT had to say:
“… the victory was marred because of questionable calls that went against Williams in the third set. In the final game, Williams hit two balls that appeared to land on the baseline, according to television replays, but both were called out. In addition, Capriati appeared to double-fault in the final game, which would have given Williams a break point. But the double fault was not called.
“Rarely do three borderline calls go against one player in a game, and all of them appeared to be incorrect … Though she was smiling when she said it … ‘I’m extremely angry, bitter, upset, I feel cheated. Should I go on? I just feel robbed …
“… Calls began to snowball against Williams in the first game of the [deciding] third set. With the score at deuce, Williams hit a backhand return that was clearly good, so far inside the court that it did not even hit the line. Television replays showed that the lines official had called the ball in, but Mariana Alves, the chair umpire overruled the call and awarded the point to Capriati who went on to win the game …”
“A true daughter of her father, Serena said of this umpire who did the dirty work for her sponsors and will go down in infamy: ‘I guess she went temporarily insane.”
“Tennis stars generally do not, and cannot nor are they expected to rise from America’s slums. A tennis star generally grows up in any of the rich or, at least, upper middle class white enclaves of California, New York, etcetera. A tennis star is supposed to be tutored by an expensive white coach who dictates when the child will turn pro … parents take back stage … tennis stars are supposed to play as often as possible so that they can maintain their rankings. On all these various points, Richard Williams … is guilty, guilty, guilty!
“… By deciding to coach AND manage his daughters – and doing it very successfully – he has possibly put a lot of people of work …When Roger Federer fired his coach … the “experts” were hard at work going on and on about Roger’s mother, girl friend … handling of his affairs would be difficult but Roger has won the French and Wimbledon since …
“To the tennis establishment, I say, these two young women have helped you show the world that women’s tennis can be physical and beautiful. While your organization, the WTA, seems to bury its head in the sand about performance-enhancing drugs which are fairly rampant, these two kids are clean.” [Reduced version of original published in THE COMET ON SUNDAY, September 12, 2004.]
And on October 14, 2007, THE NATION ON SUNDAY, the successor to THE COMET, carried my Sunday essay: “If gang-up against Serena isn’t racist, what is?” To keep this essay not too long, I will quote a single paragraph.
“Venus – whom the tennis establishment can stand – and supremely confident of her place on top of the universe, Serena – whom it can hardly tolerate, have been the Pied Piper of Hamelin of asses’ tennis. They have shown the world it can be done without cominf from upper middle class Caucasian America and without starting from any fancy expensive tennis academy. No wonder, the Russians have borrowed more than a page out of Richard Williams’ tennis manual and are now dominating women’s tennis…”
And there is yet the latest Wimbledon snub that had the girls playing their first week matches on Court 2 when lesser tennis mortals – pardon the hyperbole – who have never lifted trophies on Center Court – given star treatment. Haven’t Venus lifted the singles title FIVE times and Serena, FOUR times for a combined incredible nine of the last eleven Wimbledon finals? Give me a break, what scheduling? Where is r-e-s-p-e-c-t, even if love is absent?
Venus and Serena have their places in tennis history and legend assured no matter the meanness and sniping of critics and outright haters.